Multiple epidemics of poliomyeltis, also known as infantile paralysis, occurred in the United States in the first half of the twentieth century. Although the name would lead one to believe it was a disease of young children, infantile paralysis affected adults as well.
In 1916, over 2,000 of the 6,000 polio deaths reported that year in the United States occurred in the city of New York. Franklin Delano Roosevelt contracted polio in 1921, leaving his legs paralyzed. In 1938, the March of Dimes fundraising campaign was established to fight and treat polio/infantile paralysis. Millions of dollars of the funds raised were directed to research to develop a polio vaccine.
When the polio epidemic peaked in 1952, nearly 58,000 cases were reported with over 21,000 of those being paralytic cases. Ventilatory support could be provided by the cuirass, rocking bed, and iron lung.
In 1949, three types of poliovirus were identified. In 1952, Jonas Salk tested the initial vaccine on himself and his family. Polio vaccine trials began in 1954 but were suspended in 1955. In 1960, Sabin's vaccine, was licensed. By 1963, a vaccine effective against the three types of poliovirus, was available.
Among celebrities who survived polio are actress Mia Farrow, guitarist Gene Simmons of Kiss, singer Neil Young, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, actor Donald Sutherland, actor Alan Alda, saxophonist David Sanborn, violinist Itzhak Perlman, movie director Francis Ford Coppola, and Katherine Jackson, (mother of Michael, Janet, LaToya,…).